FolkWorld Issue 37 11/2008
FolkWorld CD Reviews
Kodo & Coolfin "East Meets West" [DVD]
Warner Music DVD 87872; 12 tracks, 50 min
Kodo drummers, iconic Japanese musicians with a spectacular repertoire. Donal Lunny, Planxty and Bothy Band pedigree, surrounded by the best of current Irish traditional talent. How they got together is never adequately explained in this 50-minute docu-concert DVD, but Donal's band Coolfin certainly make the most of the world's biggest rhythm section.
The documentary parts concentrate on Kodo: the lifestyle, the training and the philosophy of what is basically a drummers' commune on a small Japanese island. Some of this footage is fascinating, and the visual content can be beautiful: Japanese rural scenes, drums and drum-making, mental and physical training sessions. In between are snatches of performance from Kodo's annual Earth Celebration festival, and most of the set from a 1998 Dublin concert featuring Kodo and Coolfin. At times it's a bit like a typical pub session - one fiddle, one box, a few flutes, a couple of guitars, and two dozen drummers. Except that the musicians are some of the best Ireland has to offer, and the drummers know when to keep out of the way.
The core of Coolfin - Donal Lunny, Mairead Ni Dhomnaill, Nollaig Casey and John McSherry - are augmented by Sharon Shannon on bijou box and by Jean Butler's hard-shoe dancing. Kodo flute players join Coolfin on a couple of numbers, and Coolfin's drummers swell the percussion sound. There are some spectacular scenes - a five-minute solo on the giant O-Daiko drum, six feet across - the sound of pipes and whistle in a beautiful Japanese air called Iridori - the awesome discipline of five Kodo drummers playing in unison, or passing a rhythm from drum to drum - and the haunting bamboo flute taking the melody on Siul a'Ruin. Drummers and world music fans will love this DVD, there's enough good Irish music in it for me, and it's also perfect for anyone who wants to see what Donal Lunny looked like ten years ago. Definitely worth a look.
Eliot Grasso "Up Against the Flatirons"
Na Píobairí Uilleann NPUCD014; 14 tracks, 49 min
Volume 1 of NPU's "Ace & Deuce of Piping" series showcases this young piper from Baltimore USA. Eliot's debut CD Standing Room Only was released a few years back to great acclaim, and Up Against the Flatirons shows the same mastery of bag and chanter. The unaccompanied playing here makes much more use of drones and regulators, and Mr Grasso appears to be in full control of these too. Mainly traditional tunes here, but Eliot throws in three of his own compositions: two jigs, The Trip to Belfast and the title tune, plus an eccentric hornpipe entitled The Fern House.
Alongside his respect and feeling for the piping tradition, Eliot is a skilled innovator. His version of Farewell to Erin adds a fresh aspect to this well-known reel, and his hybrid Sporting Nell forms a delightful introduction to two uncommon reels Kitty the Hare and The Scowling Wife. Grasso seems to be fond of the earthy, modal repertoire peculiar to the pipes: tunes such as An Buachaill Dreoite, Jenny Picking Cockles and Old Hag You Have Killed Me have that untamed elemental feel which is quite alien to most modern music. There's a touch of it in Grasso's own tunes too, and it also surfaces in the slow air Green Fields of Canada.
Other tracks here are pure flowing modern piping. The Walls of Liscarroll, apparently written for the house of a Chicago fiddler and composer, is cunningly married to Jerry Holland's jig Lakeview Drive. Classic hornpipes Chief O'Neill's and The New Century are followed by a pair of fiddle-inspired jigs. Eliot saunters smoothly through The Ace and Deuce, a notorious test piece, to finish in fine style with Mother and Child Reel and Farewell to Connacht. Rousing stuff throughout: I'm not sure who the Flatirons are, but I'd say they'll come off worst if they're up against Eliot Grasso.
Kathleen Boyle "An Cailin Rua"
Own Label; 11 tracks; 38 min
A little short at only 38 minutes, this is a box-playing debut with added bite. Kathleen hails from Glasgow, with Donegal roots only a bus-trip away, and she pumps out the Scottish and Irish repertoire in impressive style. She also has some useful friends on this recording: Julie Fowlis and Heidi Talbot each contribute a song, Jenna Reid fiddles while Martin O'Neill drums, and Kevin O'Neill toots on the auld flute. All Kathleen had to do really was roll up, play blistering and beautiful box, write a couple of the tunes, and the album was bound to turn out okay. In fact it's better than okay, calling Karen Tweed's early recordings to mind, and on a par with any current young female piano-box player.
Jigs, reels, songs, hornpipes, slow airs: it's all here, shiny and polished, from Kathleen's jaunty jig Barney's to her late grandfather's signature reel. Tempo is spot on, never to fast, never too slow, except maybe on the gallop through Angus Fitchet's strathspey. Her own slow air Goodnight Manny is one of several tracks with a strong Cunningham influence: a beautiful melody with a super-smooth arrangement. Kathleen's pair of waltzes is equally charming, contrasting nicely with a medley of Paddy O'Brien tunes.
McGeady's Big Day and The Wee Boxes show Kathleen's considerable composition skills on reels too. Maybe she gets that from her grandfather Neilidh, whose priceless home recording of The Moving Clouds is included here with Kathleen and her father Hughie playing along. There's plenty more pyrotechnics with The Spey In Spate, Mairtin O'Connor's Reel and The Dawn, but it's the slower tracks which carry the day for me: the title song delivered by Julie Fowlis, The Banks of Red Roses sung by Heidi Talbot, and the final air Pretty Girl Milking her Cow. I think you'll like Kathleen's music.
Paul McGlinchey "Unearthed"
Own Label; 15 tracks; 46 min
Tyrone man Paul McGlinchey has numerous All Ireland flute titles to his name, but didn't record as a youngster. Now in the prime of life, he's joined by fellow Ulster musicians and others to produce a flute recording which is rich and rounded, true to the Irish tradition and high quality throughout. There's a hint of the breathy Northern rushing style to his playing, but the tone is clear enough for listening and the rhythm is spot on. Tempo can run away at times, adding to the general energy and excitement of this fine debut CD. Pride of place goes to the flute, of course, but there are some tasty duets with Brid Harper and MacDara Ó Raghallaigh on fiddles and Stevie Dunne on banjo. Extra rhythm comes from Ryan Molloy and Seamus O'Kane.
Unearthed is full of great tunes. Kicking off with a trio of Josie McDermott reels,
Paul follows up with a couple of traditional favourites topped off by Vincent Broderick's The Rookery. For jigs we have Dermot Byrne's and Tom Billy's, Out on the Road and Princess Nancy both by Liz Carroll, and an unusual pairing of The Gaelic Club with Courtown Harbour, a tune I've struggled with: Paul breezes through it. Patsy Hanley's Reel and Lord Ramsey's are dispatched with similar ease, and The Walls of Liscarroll lead up to the big finish on Paddy Mills' Fancy. Between the jigs and the reels are some flings, some hornpipes and two towering slow airs. Anachuin is a haunting melody, raw and poignant. O'Donnell's Lament is more formal, with grand arpeggios and sweeping runs. Helpful sleevenotes and good design add gloss to a very appealing CD.
Rachel & Lillias "Dear Someone"
FECD215; 11 tracks; 46 min
It's good to see young performers launched by a respected label. Rachel (Newton) and Lillias (Kinsman-Blake) have been playing the festival circuit for a year or two, as a duo and in other combinations, and their performances have attracted the right sort of attention. Going into the studio is a different discipline, though, and this recording shows nerves and inexperience at times. Nevertheless, the sweetness and simplicity of the harp-flute combination wins me over on most tracks.
Bonnie Lass is a powerful song by ex-Ossian singer Tony Cuffe, with the Ossian touch echoed on flute and harp. Nighean nan Geug is an equally strong theme, but presented much more gently. Rachel's vocals carry both English and Gaelic well. The version of The Bonny Light Horseman here is also compelling. The other trhree songs on this recording didn't impress me as much: Rich Man's Daughter is rather bland, Mo Thruaigh fails to convey the joy and passion usually associated with whisky, and the title track is lacking assurance and lift. There's a lack of assurance and control in the flute too, apparent on The Wrong Medicine and The Wedding Reels, but Lillias plays beautifully on a couple of tricky waltzes and some of her own fine compositions. The harp never seems to miss a beat, although it is generally less exposed, and The Harp Set is a very impressive medley.
This is not a super-polished album, and is perhaps the better for that. Nor is it as spontaneous as this duo's live appearances: the tempo lags occasionally, and there could be more verve in some of the songs. That aside, Dear Someone is a very creditable debut and a great opportunity for Rachel and Lillias to reach a wider audience. There's a little double-tracking and a touch of guest percussion, but this album is largely a two-woman show and a great taster for their concert performances.
Sarah-Jane Summers "Nesta"
Own Label; 13 tracks; 61 min
This recording was a very pleasant surprise, gorgeous music on a solo debut from a fiddler I'd only heard once before. Sarah-Jane Summers plays with the Scots-Nordic band Fribo, whose repertoire is mainly Norwegian songs and tunes. Here she cuts loose on the Scottish fiddle tradition, though still with a fair helping of Nordic material. Ms Summers is apparently the only prominent Scottish player of the Hardanger fiddle, West Norway's highly decorated folk violin with sympathetic strings like a small Indian esraj, and there are five tracks of eerie fjord fiddle beautifully played on Nesta. The album opens with two tunes on the Hardanger fiddle, the enchnting slow jig Da Lounge Bar and a bouncy little Summers number called The Happy Hardanger. There follow a dozen selections of Scottish dance music and airs, with the occasional Scandinavian tune and several more Summers compositions thrown in. The hour includes some heart-rending Gaelic melodies from Sarah-Jane's Invernesian roots, with names too long to print, and some altogether more modern pieces whose titles are unprintable for different reasons.
Sarah-Jane is supported by Ewan McPherson of Fribo on guitars, Kevin McGuire and Barry Phillips on bass strings, and Paul Jennings on percussion. Some tracks have big, rolling arrangements, but the fiddle surfs strongly on top, carving and turning before dropping into the next tune. The overall impression is of flawless technique and great depth: the full rich tone wraps up the tunes, and the bow delivers sentiment and energy in perfect measure. Guddling in the Burn is an impertinent little jig which suits its title, played for the sheer fun of it. Donald Riddell's tune Dancing Dolly is a powerful duet with US fiddler Liz Knowles. Bonny Breast Knot and Arthur's Seat enjoy a dignity and grace here which almost makes up for their names. Spike on a Bike is exactly what you'd expect, fiddle mayhem, while Lady Madelina Sinclair is not: a big strathspey transferred on the Hardanger and topped off with an American country reel is a surprising choice even today, but it works pretty well. The otherworldly treatment of The Lewisman in Exile is another unique and worthwhile experiment, and gives way to the final stomp and weave through Urban Trad. A delight from start to finish, I can't recommend Nesta too highly.
Fraser Fifield Band "Traces of Thrace"
Own label; TANCD003; 9 tracks; 51 min
You have to admire a man whose first recording was basically solo, whose second was with his own trio, and who has now put together a six-piece ensemble for album number 3. Fraser's musical horizons grow almost as fast as his band: Honest Water was largely a Scottish celtic CD, Slow Stream moved into jazz, and Traces of Thrace takes us to the borders of Asia. All the music on this release was written by Fraser, but much of the sound is due to Bulgarian kaval virtuoso Nedyalko Nedyalkov and gadulka guru Georgi Petrov. Sofia Rakia starts as if this was just another modern slow reel, until the gadulka cuts in: then things get heavy and complicated, and unmistakably Balkan. Waterfall is more in the low whistle mainstream, not unlikely McGoldrick or Duignan. The swirling notes of Kerry's Dream could come from a traditional Bulgarian band, or indeed from Andy Irvine's Balkan dabblings, with kaval and sax sparring in the melody.
The mix of straight western rhythms and Bulgarian complexities is fascinating. Traces of Thraces swings from 4/4 to 12/8. Drawing Maps is based on the curious offbeats of Balkan dance music, and Ceres slips easily into 7/8. Whistle and sax are sometimes on top, sometimes underneath the kaval and gadulka, but the mix of traditions produces a tight and colourful fabric throughout. The middle section of Signs of Life is as tight as a drum, and completely absorbing. Guitar and percussion are not too prominent, providing vital reinforcement of the rhythm without marring the melody line. Fraser's bagpipes are dusted off for the almost pibroch feel of Passing with the Time, and Nedyal's is a striking climax to an intriguing and engaging album. Not everyone's cup of tea, but Traces of Thrace is well worth checking out if you have a Balkan bone in your body.
Annbjørg Lien "Waltz With Me"
Heilo HCD 7216; 10 tracks; 46 min
Originally put together for a concert, the musicians and material on Waltz With Me were assembled by Norway's premier Hardanger fiddler, Annbjørg Lien, to bridge the gap between Scandinavian and other fiddle traditions. The fiddling is excellent; Annbjørg plays the slightly mystical Hardanger fiddle with its sympathetic resonances, Bruce Molsky plays mainly plain fiddle from his American old-time background spanning Scandinavian and Celtic influences, Mikael Marin rounds things out on the five-string viola, effectively an extended fiddle, and Christine Hanson's folk cello is well used to backing this type of music. Rough and gentle by turns, Waltz With Me is never dull. From the whirling trance-like rhythms of Home East to the stately measures of the title track, the simple beauty of Dancing the Years Away to the raw power of Mother and Son, this recording is powerful and captivating, full of the stark contrasts of Scandinavian culture.
The three vocal pieces here are sung in Norwegian by Kirsten Battenberg, a pure-voiced zither-player, and in English translation by Bruce Molsky. I'm not a big fan of Bruce's singing - it's a matter of taste, and he doesn't suit mine - but the atmosphere created by the Norwegian vocals is primal and enchanting. Riv Rav Ruskande could be an old woodsman's or gypsy's rhyme. Fela and Dansande Ut Alle Ar sing of more expected themes, the joy of the fiddle and the Nordic midsummer festivals. In fact all the music and words on this album are credited to Annbjørg. Waltz With Me is pretty widely available, and can always be found at www.grappa.no - you might want to check out Annbjørn's other recordings there too.
Bodega "Under the Counter"
CDTRAX325; 2008; Playing time: 49:44 min
Runrig's (-> FW#24) bi-lingual "Stamping Ground" opens the proceedings:
April comes to the new grass on the hills of gold.
So we tend and we nurture all the seeds we've sown.
Back on the stamping ground to where it all began.
Kind of a motto for Bodega on their
follow-up album to the same titled "Bodega" of 2006 (-> FW#32),
after winning the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award competition.
This five-piece is Norrie MacIver (vocals, accordion),
Gillian Chalmers (pipes), Tia Files (guitar),
Ross Couper (fiddle) and June Naylor (clarsach), coming
from all over the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
"Under the Counter" is yet another great album.
They are young, they are powerful.
It is a mix of original and traditional tunes from
Scotland, the Shetlands and French-Canada,
including some mouth music. Norrie MacIver has a wonderful voice,
displayed on the traditional "Tha Na h-uain air an Tulaich" (The Lambs are on the Hillock),
Tim O'Brien's "Lost Little Children" and
Donald Morrison's Lewis ceilidh song "Balaich an Iasgaich" (The Fishery Boys).
The Gaelic lyrics are translated in the booklet.
You can say what you like, but it shouldn't be traded under the counter.
All Jigged Out "Wish Hill"
All Jigged Out is
young English quintet featuring flutist Philippe Barnes,
fiddler Benjamin Lee, pianist Tom Phelan, drummer Ollie Boorman
and Dan Dotor on the bass. On their debut album "Wish Hill"
they mix Celtic instrumental tunes with jazz and rock music.
Only three tunes are traditional, six from contemporary artists,
fourteen written by Philippe and Ben. Their music is a mix of
FW#24) and Burach
FW#32) minus the heavy electric guitar.
However, All Jigged Out rock the tradition with much finesse,
being excellent players one by one.
Can you stand a groovy bass guitar and some drums,
and jazz-like improvisations over tunes written in the traditional vein?
If this is the case I would recommend All Jigged Out's "Wish Hill".
Ben Lennon & Tony O'Connell "Rossinver Braes"
CICD 174; 2008; Playing time: 47:37 min
Traditional Irish fiddler Ben Lennon was born in 1928 in County Leitrim.
He was a regular visitor to the Sunday afternoon sessions in An Cruiscin Lan in Spiddal
in the early 1970s which turned out to be the beginning of De Danann. He also
recorded a couple of albums, as did his sons
There was a lot of change during his lifetime.
Ben remembers the arrival of gramophone records and the radio,
the demise of house dances and the arrival of the ceili bands.
Now he gives it a try to pair the fiddle with the concertina.
He first encountered this instrument in the early 1960s with Paddy Murphy
and now teamed up with Tony O'Connell
from Glin, County Limerick, who recorded an album with Leitrim fiddler Tom Morrow
Seemingly an unlikely pairing, since there is an age gap of almost 50 years.
They also have different styles of playing, however, they managed to get it together.
Tony was able to adapt to Ben's Leitrim fiddle style. They play the
classic tunes, sometimes with different settings, e.g. the "Harvest Home" hornpipe.
The "Larry O'Gaff" jig is played in both keys of D and G, the
reels "Mulhaire's #9" and "Banks of Ilen" are played in G instead of the standard D.
The "Cherish the Ladies" jig is played by Ben alone, which
reminds us that when Ben was starting to play in the 1930s, musicians played one tune
at a time; the arrival of 78 rpm records changed all that.
Besides traditional tunes there are newly-composed tunes,
several from Ben's younger brother Charlie
(-> FW#34), including the title track
"Rossinver Braes" named after the village where Ben lives.
Besides Charlie on piano, there is help from Alec Finn (bouzouki)
and Jerry MacNamara (guitar).
Brian Conway "Consider the Source"
173; 2008; Playing time: 65:31 min
Consider the source, well, let's do it: tune sources here are Michael Coleman, Martin Wynne, Andy McGann,
Joe Burke, Paddy O'Brien, Larry Redican. "Consider the Source" is
New York's Sligo style fiddler Brian Conway's
second solo album. Brian was born in the Bronx, New York, to Irish parents from County Tyrone.
He learned the fiddle from Martin Mulvihill and Martin Wynne and was influenced by Andy McGann.
After his solo debut album "First Through the Gate" in 2002, he
acquired a new fiddle with deep, warm sounds made in Venice by Giulio Degani in 1910.
Full of confidence he started out again. The recording's
undertitle might be: Brian Conway & Friends. Especially there are
three tracks of an all-star New York quartet, "Pride of New York,"
featuring Brian, Billy McComiskey on accordion,
Joanie Madden on flute (-> FW#10) and Felix Dolan on piano
Felix's son Brendan performs keyboard on eight out of fifteen tracks.
Dan Milner (-> FW#20) sings Brian's favourite song "Matt Hyland;"
another song, Robert Burns' "Highland Mary," is sung by Niamh Parsons
Brian thinks that accompanying vocalists should be part of a fiddler's skill.
Despite of airs such as "The Wounded Hussar" (Carolan's Captain O'Kane) and another
Carolan tune, "Madam Maxwell," it is the New York-Sligo legacy that is passed on.
The CD starts with two classic reels, "Trim the Velvet/Lord Gordon's," the
final set is "Bonnie Kate ...," both signature tunes of Michael Coleman.
If you don't make it to New York, buy this one.
Takuji Tamura & Yukio Kashiwagi "Strange but True..."
Own label; TKCD-01; 2007; Playing time: 68:46 min
It is said that the Japanese introduced Western music as early as the second half
of the 19th century into their educational system, and thus would have more
familiarity with Western than Eastern music. No wonder then that Japanese
play traditional Irish music instead of minzoku ongaku, and the
Western violin enjoys more popularity than the kucho or kokyu bowed lute.
spent ten years in Galway in the West of Ireland to learn the Irish fiddle and whatever else.
"Tak" really learned his trade, like the best Connemara players.
In 2004 he recorded an album with Danish accordion player
Tak's "Strange but True..." features Yukio Kashiwagi
(who recorded with Japanese concertina player Luka Maruta in 2007)
on guitar, bouzouki, mandolin and some additional fiddle.
If you hope for some nice Japanese touch,
as on the Kila/Oki collaboration (-> FW#34)
I have to disappoint you. Tak is an admirer of both Sligo's Michael Coleman and James Morrison
and the East Galway fiddle style. He introduced some subtle changes into tunes:
"Finbarr Dwyer's" reel (one of Finbarr Dwyer's) is in G minor (to avoid the high C on the E string),
he made a slow air from an untitled polka he found in one of Brendan Breathnach's tunebooks,
and "Patrick Walker's" (written by Patrick Walker, the first fiddler Tak ever saw) is played
as a slow tune, since he wasn't sure if it is a hornpipe or a highland (strathspey).
Otherwise "Strange but True..." is trad as trad can be, and Irish as Irish can be.
Tak returned to Japan in 2005 to establish the Tokyo School of Traditional Irish Fiddle Music,
with 70 students enrolled at the time.
So there is more Japanese fiddlers to come. Could be worse, I say.
Stéphanie Makem & Tiarnán Ó Duinnchinn "Ceol is Píob"
Own label; CB001; 2008
Tiarnan is an uilleann piper from Monaghan town, he toured with
Moya Brennan (-> FW#35)
and recorded on "Whisper to the Wild Water" and "Two Horizons"
Stephanie hails from the Monaghan/Armagh border, singer Sarah Makem being her great grandmother.
This Irish couple in life teamed up musically and
wanted to do an album of how they sounded when playing music they enjoy together.
Half singing and half uilleann piping seem to be strange bedfellows,
but that's what it is. "Ceol is Píob" features
music and song of the greater Ulster area,
from Killen Hill (Louth) and the Cuckoo Glen (Antrim)
to the Whinny Hills of Leitrim and the Glen Road to Carrick.
Sources credited are Donegal fiddlers John Doherty and Tommy Peoples,
fiddler Gerry O'Connor and singer Paddy Tunney.
Steve Cooney (guitar, drums & bass), Paul Meehan (guitar)
and Feargal Murray (keyboards on Georg Friedrich Handel's "Gigue for Keyboard in G",
reminding the work of Turlough O'Carolan and thus not out of place on a folk album)
fill out the sound. Stephanie's voice is sweet and beautiful,
performing traditional songs such as "Lough Erne Shore" and "I Wish My Love was a Red Red Rose",
as well as Gaelic ballads such as
Peadar O Doirnin's "Urchnoc Chein Mhic Cainte", the popular "Airdi Cuain"
and the drinking song "Liontar duinn an Cruiscin".
Unfortunatly the booklet has no translations of the Gaelic lyrics,
but this is a minor criticism concerning the whole venture.
Crucible "Love & Money"
Grenoside is a small town four miles north of Sheffield in South Yorkshire.
The town is boasting of a team of sword dancers who appear annually on Boxing Day.
Both Gavin Davenport (guitar) and Rich Arrowsmith (melodeon) dance with the Grenoside team.
"Captain's Song" is a version of the calling-on song for the dancers,
their "Roxburgh Castle" is one of the tunes which accompany the sword dance.
The rest of the band is Jess Arrowsmith (fiddle) and Helena Reynolds (fiddle, border pipes).
Their third album features three tunes sets and
six traditional songs, e.g. "Three Maidens" and "Collier Lad".
Great harmonies which remind me of Steeleye Span at their very best (-> FW#25),
half of the songs are sung a capella.
Three songs have been written by the band, among them
a blend of "The Cruel Mother" and "Babes in the Wood".
Another one are words to a Flemish tune about TV ads for army careers.
The highlight of the Grenoside sword dance is the decapitation of the captain,
who comes back to life again. Crucible is bringing traditional English music,
that has been decapitated and left for dead in the 19th/20th century,
back to life, and there certainly was more love than money to do this recording.
Sheva "Live in Australia"
2004; Playing time: 51:50 min
How can there peace in the world, when there is no peace between fellow countrymen?
asks the Israeli-Palestinian band Sheva,
a Jewish-Muslim mixed bag or whatever terrible terminus you want to apply to the most natural thing on earth:
getting together, playing music and having fun beyond colour or creed.
This septet came down from the Galilee Mountains to the world's concert stages,
and recorded seven tracks live in concert while touring the Australian continent.
I missed their concert at the Rudolstadt festival (-> FW#37),
being no big fan of music from the Middle East, but
after listening to this live recording I deeply regretted it. I promise to better myself.
The music is from Arab and Hebrew traditions.
Eastern instruments meet world beats, there are such things as
dhola, baglama, darbuka, santur, ney, zurna and shenay. I need an
encyclopedia to get an idea. At least, I know what a guitar, a bass or a drum kit
is. Sheva have a spiritual mission, they are celebrating the message of peace through music.
Their lyrics are coming from the Psalms and the Book of Prayers,
if not being own words: sing, sing a song for my God,
blessed are you, The Pure Being , Our God, King of the Universe,
who nourishes the entire world with godness, beauty and grace, with mercy and compassion.
Sheva is the musical expression of peace, love and understanding.
There is nothing funny about it, but good news is: the music is great and much much fun.
Riserva Moac "Bienvenido"
Own label; 2005
is a seven-piece band from the Italian city of Bojano.
Their music is a folk punk party with Celtic influences and topical lyrics.
Fabrizio Russo and Mariangela Pavone sing, scat, rap and scream to
lively ska rhythms that lead into rousing choruses.
They are backed by a rock'n'roll line-up of electric guitars, bass and drums;
Roberto Napoletano adds the accordion, Aldo Lezza whistles and
bagpipes such as zampogna and gaita and the zurna oboe.
Nice instrumental work on both electric guitar as well as accordion and pipes anyway.
If you are reminded of the Pogues from time to time
you are not that wrong. However, Celtic beats and Italian twang
harmonize with each other at the best.
Riserva Moac bring the house down, though the
sterile studio environment is nothing compared to their live performances.
The Maerlock "Sofa"
FECD214; 2008; Playing time: 57:57 min
I don't know what the band's name The Maerlock
is about, but what I know is that singer and flutist Salma Alam,
fiddler Sarah Stuart, pianist Olly Hamilton,
guitarist Paul-Isaac Franks and percussionist Toby Kearney
(he was touring Germany with Irish piper Colman Connolly
make an interesting and exciting outfit. This young band
met while studying at the Royal Northern College of Music,
they are still based in Manchester.
On their debut album "Sofa" they apply jazz and world music influences
to songs and tunes from the British tradition.
Songs such as "I Drew My Ship", "Two Magicians", "Searching for Lambs", "Geordie,"
and an anglicised version of the Scottish "Twa Corbies".
Five instrumental tune sets are self-penned, or stretch from the Celtic fringe
to Macedonia. The only track that I don't like that much is their interpretation
of Scottish fiddler Niel Gow's "Lament for the Death of his Second Wife"
which is a bit rushed. The big finale is a question of getting used to:
The Maerlock Big Band, a 13 piece group including a brass and a rhythm section.
But even before this nice instrumental overkill, there is too much energy
to sit still on the - sofa.
Blackthorn Band "The River That Runs Below"
HOBCD1009; 2008; Playing time: 59:32 min
The title "The River That Runs Below" is taken from the song "Johnny Sands":
He said, I think I'll drown myself in the river that runs below.
She said, I wish you would, you silly old sod, I've wished it long ago.
Well, very charming. However, don't draw any rash conclusions. The music
is charming. Five years after the
debut album (-> FW#30)
they offer their follow-up, a collection of traditional tunes and songs from
Britain and Ireland. The band consists of Hobgoblin Music founders
Fergus McClelland (vocals, bouzouki, mandolin, banjo, fiddle)
and Mannie McClelland (concertina, bodhran; also member of ThingumaJig -> FW#30),
both been active in the traditional music scene for three decades.
They have now gathered a group of highly talented young musicians:
Philippe Barnes (flute, whistle) has just
completed his MA in traditional music at the University of Limerick
and also plays with the band All Jigged Out
(see CD review above),
while Alex Percy (fiddle) and Sarah Mooney (flute)
became known with a band called Rocas.
Songs included on "The River That Runs Below" are
"The Neat Little Bunch of Roses" and "The Banks of Sweet Primroses",
the instrumental tunes are a mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar.
For example, "Hamilton House" has been composed by Joseph Reinagle in the 1700s.
Therre is Claire Mann's "Obsessive Island" jig and two McClelland originals.
The band plays with an energy as if they would have waited for too long
to let their creativity come out. The music is flowing just like the river
in question, and as I said it's charming and not dreadful music,
furthermore, it is outpouring not trickling away.
Le Concert de l'Hostel Dieu & Garlic Bread "O'Carolan's Dream"
CAL 9376; 2008; Playing time: 66:02 min
A speciality from France. The Lyonese
Le Concert de l'Hostel Dieu,
directed by Franck-Emmanuel Comte, is devoted to 17th and 18th century music.
This Baroque ensemble teamed up with Garlic Bread,
a young folk group from the Rhone-Alpes region playing traditional Irish music.
This collaboration is dedicated to the music of the blind itinerant harper and composer
Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738 -> FW#20).
Carolan came from a Gaelic background, but also
discovered the music of then contemporary Italian composers,
so his music is a mix of traditional Irish and Italian Baroque music,
a blend of traditional and art music. Tunes featured are the popular
"Sheebeg and Sheemore", less played Carolan's Variations on the Scottish Air "When She Cam Ben She Bobbit".
Four of fourteen tracks are not Carolan made.
Comte's "Gaelic tarentelle" is based on "Sheebeg and Sheemore". There is
Corelli's "Folia," and some traditional reels (I'm not quite sure at which time the reel arrived in Ireland).
There are nine musicians in all, playing
Celtic harp, fiddle, bouzouki and flute on one hand, and
double bass, clavecin, organ and viole de gambe on the other.
The music goes from straight trad to Baroque and to jazz.
I am surprised about the pace of the music,
much faster as Carolan tunes are usually played.
Did they reaseach how music in Carolan's time was really played?
Or is it just a jazz thing?
Some tunes have words with it, sung by Sandrine Burtin.
Some of them are original Carolan, others of later origin.
For example, "Miss MacDermott" ("Princess Royal") today is linked with
lyrics celebrating the English frigate Arethusa,
written half a century after Carolan's death.
The booklet includes lyrics of the songs, the
Gaelic is translated into both English and French.
O'Carolan "Alrededor de Una Vela"
O'Carolan "La Llave de los Suenos"
O'Carolan "El Reloj Secreto"
WHCM-346; 2007; Playing time: 47:10 min
is a Spanish group playing traditional Irish music,
which already released three CDs. The line-up consists of
Jesus Acero (bouzouki, gaita), Chema Acarazo (acoustic guitar),
Julian Ansuategui (percussion), Susana Arregui (fiddle),
Miguel Angel Fraile (tin and low whistle) and Pilar Gonzalvo (Celtic harp).
The band named themselves after the
Irish harper and composer Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738 -> FW#20,
also see review above). Their music is mostly based on Carolan tunes;
behind the Spanish titles you can discover
tunes Carolan had written for his patrons, including
"Fanny Power", "Squire Parsons", "Morgan Magan", "Eleanor Plunkett",
"Bridget Cruise", "Lord Inchiquin".
"Una pinta y un trebol" is based on his "Ode to Whiskey",
and "Adios a la Musica" is "Carolan's Farewell to Music", of course.
There are also traditional Irish reels and polkas, the slow air
"Limerick's Lamentation", Rory Dall O'Cathain's "Tabhair Dom Do Lamh" (which translates as "Give Me Your Hand", here called "Dame tu mano"),
as well as Asturian and Breton dances and a klezmir melody, and original compositions inspired by Irish music,
in one case by an Auvergne tune.
Most tracks are of gentle pace. The sound is quite cinematic.
However, they are no slaves to the tunes and a supposedly authentic sound,
but confident enough to make it their own, still sounding Irish.
Crows Records/Whirling; Whrl 012; 2008; Playing time: 48:32 min
Question: why should Irish artists when playing folk music play traditional Irish music?
Answer: there is no reason at all!
For example, see the Café Orchestra's music (-> FW#33).
They can do it with perfection, and so does Sligo based group
featuring fiddler Steve Wickham of Waterboys fame (-> FW#31),
Anna Houston (cello, mandolin), Felip Carbonell (guitar) and Eddie Lee (double bass) - plus
Russian gypsy fiddler Oleg Ponomarev
On their second album "Magpie" they play traditional melodies such as the Gregorian chant from Mallorca, "Sa Sibil-la",
the "Hot Bulgar" and the Venezuelan "La Partida". Steve's own composition "Crowswing" they call
a Russian bandit tune. Dervish's Cathy Jordan (->
FW#35) presented a lovely tune.
Felip’s only vocal appearance is his original lament for his mother, “Ai Mu Mare”.
Eventually, the band is playing some traditional Irish sounding tunes,
Anna hopes her "Magpie" will find its way into pub seesions.
However, NoCrows' crowswing is generally into gypsy jazz and similar styles
and there could be no better performers than these.
Mideando String Quintet "Tutte le Direzioni"
Own label; 2007
The Mideando String Quintet
is a bluegrass band from Italy, who won the prestigious
European World of Bluegrass award for Best European Band in 2006
(-> FW#36), and as such
represented Europe at the International Bluegrass Music Association's
World of Bluegrass in Nashville in 2007.
Riccardo Targhetta (lead vocals, percussion), Fabiano Guidi Colombi (guitar),
Mirko Zanzarin (bass), Alessandro Chiarelli (fiddle) and
Stefano Santangelo (mandolin, harmonica) present a kind of bluegrass music,
at the same time it is not. "Tutte le Direzioni," translated as All directions,
is the name of their recent CD, and it takes all directions. It starts with
the Italo-pop "Mio Capitano", has two more Italian songs, plus five English
songs including the ancient disco tune "You're the One That I Want"
and the Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star". MSQ's
instrumental music features a rather easy-going "Turkey in the Straw".
Riccardo Targhetta is the lead singer, but the MSQ possesses
five lovely voices in perfect harmony.
Five guys that have music in their blood.
Skanda "El Cuartu"
CDNAZ 147; 2007; Playing time: 49:40 min
"El Guartu" starts as a Wolfstone album
fiery and powerful, with grooving bass lines and heavy electric guitars.
Siempre me gustaron los Purple y los Floyd, los Zeppelin el Remis y los Stones,
the lyrics go in "Cantuserron Paradise". Yet Skanda
is as Spanish as can be, as you notice on track #2 when they start singing.
Well, the eleven tracks on "El Cuartu" are very Celtic sounding,
the Spanish Celts also have their reels including the "Return to Miltown".
Skanda has been formed in 1996 in Asturia in north Spain, this six-piece outfit
recorded four albums to date, featuring traditional Asturian tunes
and self-penned songs. They call it energy folk or folk mestizu.
But the Skanda style has not much to do with the mestizo style of music,
a mix of reggae, ska, punk and Latin, which is so popular in the Mediterranean
and Latin America. At least it seems to me, Skanda is more into hard rock and,
of course, contemporary Celtic music. Notwithstanding excursions
into pop and swing music, of which I'm not too sure about the seriousness.
Mark Mawby "Waters Rising"
Own label; 2008
Mark Mawby is living
in West Yorkshire, teaching the guitar and playing in
different ceili bands and a pipe led band called Reed Riot.
Mark plays the acoustic guitar, tunes on his solo debut "Waters Rising" range from
Carolan airs ("Morgan Magan" "Eleanor Plunkett") to the jigs & reels,
including two original melodies.
He is playing solo, at times joined by uilleann pipes and percussion.
This is nice for a change, yet Mark is able to hold the listener spellbound with his finger picking alone.
Three songs are thrown in for good measure to take a break from the furious picking:
the traditonal English/Irish song "Newry Highwayman",
Peter Barden's "Nothing Stops the River Rising", and finally
Richard Thompson's "Farewell Farewell" (from Fairport's "Liege and Lief" album).
Mark's vocal delivery does not match his finger skills,
but it is not as bad as some other reviewers suggested.
Apart from these minor flaws, "Waters Rising" is a very pleasing
album for all those interested in Celtic fingerstyle playing.
V/A "Old Wine New Skins"
DUSKCD104; 2007; Playing time: 75:49 min
There are different takes on English traditional and folk song today
(e.g. -> FW#35,
FW#36), but all together form a living tradition.
Old Wine (from) New Skins is a companion CD to
"The Folk Handbook - Working with Songs from the English Tradition",
published by the English Folk and Dance Song Society (-> FW#37).
The book itself features a CD with authentic solo singers. However,
the idea came up to produce a companion album of contemporary interpretations of some of the songs in the book.
With one exception -- the CD closes with Shirley Collins'
version of the transportation song "Adieu to Old England" from 1974 --
all have been recorded in the past couple of years, some especially for this compilation.
Featured are 17 English folk songs, some well-known such as
"Barbara Allen", "Geordie", "John Barleycorn" and "Banks of Sweet Primroses".
There is more interesting stuff, e.g. "The Broomfield Wager"
(it has also been recorded on the latest Malinky album, see review below).
Among the English, Welsh, Scots and American singers are
Lucy Wainwright Roche,
The Devil's Interval,
who played the blind fiddler on board the HMS Bounty (-> FW#37),
James Yorkston & The Athletes,
Michael Weston King,
Robin & Bina Williamson of Incredible String Band fame,
Tom Paxton (-> FW#35), and
Jacqui McShee's Pentangle.
Not everything might be for everybody's taste,
some update on the tradition is far out of the average folkie taste.
However, it is no poison in a glass of wine, to quote a traditional song.
A nice booklet is detailling the origins of the songs and its interpreters.
Adieu to Old England, welcome to the New World!
Pauliina Lerche "Malanja"
Ruoto; RUOCD106; 2006; Playing time: 48:40 min
After the Bardentreffen festival Nuremberg in 2008, which had a Finland theme (-> FW#37),
I realized that there is no Finnish music among my CDs,
and my collection is not the smallest, I can tell you.
Though I enjoyed Finnish artists in concert, I rarely listened to it on record.
Maybe because Finnish music is often too far out, and I think it dull
when lacking the visual element. I changed my mind with
singer, player of the accordion, fiddle, kantele (a plucked string instrument) and deltar
(a harp-like instrument).
Pauliina grew up in Rääkkylä in Northern Karelia near the Russian border,
which has produced the famous band Värttinä, Pauliina co-founded (->
"Malanja" is her second solo CD (M. is a Karelian girl name). Its
eleven tracks feature own compositions and lyrics with only occasional traditional borrowings
The music is deeply rooted in traditional Finnish music, however,
not the melancholy of the Nordic countries, but it's lively as Celtic music is.
Certainly more exotic, further instruments featured are
vibraphone, dobro and Estonian bagpipes.
The CD booklet includes Pauliina's original Finnish lyrics with English translations,
and its rootsy and nature inspired lyrics are only one thing to make sure that her music is not crazy, but solid
Jeana Leslie & Siobhan Miller "In a Bleeze"
Jeana Leslie & Siobhan Miller
are students of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. Siobhan sings,
Jeana also sings and plays piano and fiddle, both fiddle and hardanger fiddle
(similar to the violin with additional sympathetic strings that resonate and provide an echo-like sound).
Add some guest musicians on whistles, pipes, guitar, bodhran and djembe;
Brian McNeill can be credited for production and he also plays some fiddle and concertina.
"In a Bleeze" features two instrumental tune sets, including tunes written by Jeana,
and eleven songs. Three of them are contemporary, from
Canadian songwriters Michael Pentergast and David Francey (->
and Phamie Gow's "Goodby to the Sea and Sailors," Phamie being the great Scots fiddler
Niel Gow's grand grand ... niece, herself a harpist (-> FW#31).
Siobhan wrote one original song, but most of them are traditional
songs from the Highlands of Scotland, the Scottish Borders and the lowlands of England:
"Burning of Auchindoun", "Edward", "Time Wears Awa'", "Mad Tom of Bedlam"
"Mary Mild" (a version of "Four Marys"), "Midlothian Miners".
Eventually "The Parting Glass", a live recording sung as an encore after the duo won the
BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award in 2008. This is a version from the north east of Scotland.
Jeana Leslie & Siobhan Miller deserved to win. I'm impressed,
but also left with the question what the hell in a bleeze means.
Answers to FolkWorld please!
© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 11/2008
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